DMAA Portfolio Refurbishment 02


The “Better Self”

What do we get when we preserve the existing urban fabric? Patina, surface or decor, form or material? Does the physical preservation of a historic facade lead to the continuity of a city, or is this just a way of petrifying a cityscape? And is there anything sustainable about such an approach?

DMAA challenges this classic architectural task and arrives at controversial, yet contemporary answers. As urban concepts have evolved, so has the understanding of renovation as an expression of our cultural positioning in time. The classic antagonism of old versus new has long been overcome, and DMAA’s investigative design methodology seeks to create new forms of dialogue between the past and the future.

In its passionate examination of place and context, DMAA constantly expands its understanding of the existing, from cityscapes to constructive, aesthetic, and historical ideas and structures. The real value of a facade is made manifest not by its patina or often very time-specific details, but by the inner logic of its supporting structure or its materiality or aesthetic.

Through these in-depth studies, DMAA also opens up the pool of memories of the whole design process. It rediscovers radical ideas or compelling solutions that were somehow lost in the initial design process or during subsequent remodeling. The “Better Self” and its historical and symbolic capital suddenly become available again in a wider understanding of “refurbishment.”

DMAA: challenges of Refurbishment – ​​four contemporary answers

Karlsruhe, Germany

Under construction
Start of planning 2014
Completion 2032 (est.)

Vienna, Austria

Under construction
Start of Planning 2016
Completion end of 2024

Bremen, Germany

Under construction
Start of Planning 2018
Completion 07/2024

Shanghai, China

Under construction
Start of Planning 2019
Completion 10/2024


Refurbishment means building in time. While new buildings create spaces, the refurbishment of existing structures always generates a dialogue with temporality and history. A discourse emerges that is not merely concerned with the treatment and preservation of built fabric. Rather, it is a dialogue about inherent concepts, historical ideas, and design choices, about the phenomena of ageing and the traces left by people on their built environment. This approach also shifts the understanding of temporality and our perception of our own architecture.

"Once you realise that every design process is a series of decisions, [...] it makes no significant difference whether the previous decisions were your own or those of others."
- Hermann Czech, Der Umbau, 1989

This approach is now undergoing a paradigm shift. Buildings are no longer seen as static end results but, rather, as snapshots of their history of use and of their position in the resource cycle. Architecture is redefining itself in the wake of today’s major challenges and crises.

This paradigm shift is also affecting the wider reception and narratives of architecture. The concrete and the sensually perceptible are being supplemented by descriptions of processes and temporal sequences. The before and after of a building are becoming part of its architectural reality.

We now make demands on not only our buildings, but also their structural and urban context. What answers can we expect? Will we be confronted with hermetic architectural objects that seem trapped in their design logic, or will we learn about the current potential of architecture and find solutions for new public spaces and for the implementation of sustainable technologies?


A closer look at DMAA’s architecture reveals no specific refurbishment typology. Considered aesthetically, its self-confident volumes and dynamic forms and structures are free of the ponderous contrasts and antagonisms of old versus new. On closer inspection, this is where DMAA’s architectural insight and design strategy emerge. Architecture demands a comprehensive understanding of a site, its existing buildings, and its multi-layered atmosphere, and it is the direct contact with and physical experience of architecture that is the central starting point of the design process.

DMAA shows respect for topos, for a place and its existing structures. It incorporates a sensitivity to the movement of the human body and the energies of a space into a comprehensive design process. And finally it employs a range of widely differing spatial interventions to shape a "Gesamtwerk" of formally very diverse buildings.

The immediate intention of these interventions is far more than merely symbolic. The buildings of DMAA are not objects that can be understood by simply looking at them. On the contrary, this requires us to move through the spaces and experience the dramaturgy that lies at the heart of their design work.

Working with existing buildings is a non-negotiable part of this creative process. The physicality of the existing building, as well as its ideal form, is just another factor in the intellectual gravitational field of the design process, in which movements and spatial formations are tested, rejected, and refined. DMAA speaks of “imaginations” that are sent into these fields of functions, specifications, and ideas as spatial hypotheses. The strength and coherence of the resulting architecture are ultimately the essential criteria for continuing the series of decisions that begins with the exploration of the existing and continues with the ideas, the additions, and the rebalancing of the project.

The significance and substance of the historic steel structure of Expo Greenhouse Garden in Shanghai are consciously exploited while new qualities are generated by interventions in the pathways within and between the greenhouses. The overall idea leaves the existing structure far behind, yet could never have been created without it.

In the same way, the facade design of Althan Quartier only hints at the existing building. In an extremely complex development process that was largely driven by external influences, it is the internal structure that has been preserved. The physical presence and visibility of this existing reinforced concrete framework generate a creative intensity that is hidden at first sight and only becomes visible as one moves through the building.


DMAA systematically questions the fundamentals in order to develop structural options and solutions. By analyzing existing buildings at different levels, the office reveals a wide range of strategies, with the consistent objective of enhancing the architectural and spatial quality of the site.

On the one hand, the conservation of the built fabric and its materials is based on the demand for the sustainable use of resources. At the same time, an existing building is also a reservoir of historical ideas and technical solutions. The revelation and reuse of this structural and constructive intelligence provides an opportunity to not only preserve existing qualities, but also, ideally, enhance them in line with current requirements. The concept of continuity is both expanded and brought right up to date.

Finally, refurbishment is also a complex form of intellectual dialogue. Existing buildings become partners in the design process. In this way, DMAA goes beyond the old dogmas of legibility and of contrasting old with new and, driven by the constant search for new solutions, moves towards an approach to refurbishment in which the existing building becomes the basis of something new, of added value, and of a comprehensive understanding of quality that ultimately leads to the dissolution of these distinctions.

The transformative approach of projects such as Althan Quartier or the Kellogg’s site in Bremen gives existing buildings a modern relevance in which their timelessness and radicalism are retained and juxtaposed with contemporary interventions.


"History is not given, but assigned to us. History therefore does not simply coincide with "things that happened". History only emerges when something is added to the events, and that something is us. Events are what has entered our minds. Historical truth can only be judged on this scale."
- Egon Friedell, Kulturgeschichte des Altertums

Taking up Hermann Czech’s natural and logical description of architecture as the result of a series of historical and contemporary choices, we should be aware that working consciously with existing buildings is a cultural achievement. It represents a conscious, fundamental step, in the sense of Egon Friedell, to confront us with history as a means of generating history in the first place. DMAA integrates this commitment into their system of dramaturgical movements and of sending visitors to their architecture on a journey.

Badisches Staatstheater
Karlsruhe, Germany



The competition entry, which was created around 60 years ago by the Karlsruhe architect Helmut Bätzner, a pupil of Rolf Gutbrod, convinced the then jury with a roof landscape that stretched out over the two open foyer levels and both stage towers. In the realized building, which was completed ten years later, closed balustrades and functional elements diminished this idea by creating a more hermetic expression.

After operating for 40 years, the need to upgrade the interior of the theater in such areas as technical infrastructure, accessibility, and labor and safety standards had become increasingly urgent. In addition to this, the artistic requirements of a multi-genre theater, which is part of the cultural network of present-day Karlsruhe and whose workshops and rehearsal spaces were scattered across the city, had changed. DMAA’s convincing project resolved these complex conflicts by resolutely reinterpreting the original architectural motifs.

Several publically accessible small and rehearsal stages were added to the two main venues and the backstage logistics and service areas were intelligently remodeled. Numerous constructional aspects of the impressively enlarged standalone ensemble enable it to engage with the building lines of the city and establish a relationship with the surrounding built fabric.

The striking motif of the landscape of tents with two stage towers combines subtle coding with a coherent expression. The newly created, continuous edge to the roof, which encircles the entire complex, ensures that this huge covering terminates as a free-hanging “stage curtain.” Due to the varying length of this curtain, the different foyer areas become stages that open to the forecourt.

This newly designed theater forecourt, with its green islands and areas of water, connects the exterior and the interior of the building in a number of directions. A generous open stair draws this forecourt up to the upper level of the foyer, where visitors find the restaurant areas and viewing terraces. The texture of the existing facade elements becomes a spatial motif, whose textile character unifies the theater, with its original and new architecture. Thus, DMAA transforms the unintentional antagonism between the building and the park into an integrated flow of external and internal spaces that present the Staatstheater to the city.

competition model Helmut Bätzner

competition model DMAA

Helmut Bätzner

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314 Staatstheater Karlsruhe BAST Sanierung 08 07 22 AKO 042

© Arno Kohlem

314 Staatstheater Karlsruhe BAST Sanierung 14 10 21 AKO 0100

© Arno Kohlem

314 Staatstheater Karlsruhe BAST Sanierung 14 10 21 AKO 0084

© Arno Kohlem

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The striking motif of the landscape of tents with two stage towers combines subtle coding with a coherent expression.

Learn more about Staatstheater Karlsruhe

Althan Quartier Francis AQ1
Vienna, Austria

© Outline Pictures / WOOW Studio


From an aristocratic palace to a magnificent railway station, to the introverted computer center of a bank, and back to the public space of a multi-functional district center.

The gesture of opening up the building ensemble of the terminus and the variously used office and residential areas to the forecourt has an interesting history that can be traced back to the 17th century. The authorship lies with an illustrious series of designers who have repeatedly revived the transport hub and its striking form within the built fabric of this Viennese district, consistently showing the same sensitivity to the site that DMAA is demonstrating in the current renovation. In 1693, Count Christoph Johann Althan, whose name has been revived in this new development, commissioned none other than Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to build him a two-story summer palace on the site. Two side wings wrapped gently around a central hall and embraced a forecourt. This inviting gesture was lost when the palace was demolished and replaced in 1893 by the uninspiring new terminus of the Vienna-Prague line that was built in the classic late nineteenth century style. The historic idea of opening up the building was revived by the architect Karl Schwanzer in 1978 and, by being continued in DMAA’s 2016-2024 redevelopment, will make a significant contribution to the urban development of the complex.

At ground level, the railway line permanently interrupted the road network, creating a challenge that still exists today. And the hermetic expression of the previous fully mirrored design, together with the dominant open staircase to the bank and the office areas above the tracks, had more than marginalized the access to and the function of the station. The redesign returns the building to the scale of its surroundings by structuring it as a series of levels, reinterpreting the original sculptural quality, and clearly defining the sequence of buildings. It opens to the forecourt in the form of a broad
central concourse.

In this way, DMAA not only reintroduces the station typology, but also creates an identity and a district center around the public transport hub and reestablishes the relationship with the city by offering a suspended urban terrace and deep views into the building. The change in level above the station creates an urban focus and connects the two districts that were previously divided by the railway tracks.

While the extensive design process also included a reevaluation of Karl Schwanzer’s earlier ideas for four tower-like buildings, an analysis of the overall ecological balance across the entire lifecycle led to the decision to retain the existing building. The calculation that this would result in a 67% reduction in CO2 emissions vis-à-vis a new building led to a strategy that focused on not only the preservation of the building fabric, but also the high spatial quality and flexibility of this modular structure, which had been developed in the spirit of late modernism.

The preservation and visible exposure of the structural reinforced concrete grid signaled not only respect for an aesthetic and technical achievement, but also a commitment to sustainability. The structural logic of the precast concrete slabs allowed two additional atria to be incorporated into the existing building, providing additional light to the interior spaces.

The desired densification was achieved by means of a two-story addition, which is set back and almost imperceptibly blends into the existing urban physiognomy.

The existing Althan Quartier, designed by Karl Schwanzer

The redesign returns the building to the scale of its surroundings by structuring it as a series of levels, reinterpreting the original sculptural quality, and clearly defining the sequence of buildings. It opens to the forecourt in the form of a broad central concourse.



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411 DMAA AQ 2304 033b
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411 AQ Baudoku Francis 6 B47 88


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learn more about Althan Quartier

Kellogg's Überseeinsel
Bremen, Germany


Bremen means change. Despite a thousand years of history, the only constant in the Hanseatic port of Bremen seems to be constant change. Silting and excavation, ever larger cargo ships, and new logistics have always required major interventions in the urban landscape. Bremen was the landing point for the American Allies and the hub for international goods and the German export boom. Bremen’s wealth lies in its waterfront, and after the profitable port facilities had had move nearer to the open sea, Bremen followed suit with residential and commercial facilities. Now the water is creating a particularly attractive waterfront, a development area populated by tourists, new residents, and a variety of services.

In the far west of Bremen, the huge basins of the former international port were filled in in 2003. This transformed the almost 300-hectare harbor area into the new Überseestadt district, one of the largest development zones in Europe. And directly adjacent to Bremen’s city center, another new district is being created on a 40-hectare spit of land to the south of Europahafen known as the Überseeinsel.

Since 2017, the site of the former Kellogg’s factory has become home to a particularly broad mix of residential, commercial, office, and leisure space that combines innovative concepts with high ecological standards. This is another area with plenty of space, plenty of ideas, and a loud but pragmatic spirit of optimism: DMAA is transforming the former rice storehouse and silo building into the new district center. Situated directly on the waterfront, the striking hotel tower and market hall also create attractive spatial sequences. This market hall focuses on regional and seasonal retail in keeping with the spirit of the times. A central atrium surrounded by three office levels has been inserted into the volume above. The adjacent silo building, which was once used to store corn and vitamins, will become a hotel, combined with a restaurant and event spaces.

Signs are a precious commodity here. The huge historic logo towers above the outline of the two distinctive 40-meter-high silos, which are now filled with hotel rooms. In the six-story warehouse, the extra-high volumes are occupied by conference and office spaces. The restaurant areas and hotel lobby provide a spatial link with the outside.

The spectacular transformation from silo to hotel rooms was achieved by cutting window openings in the concrete cylinders in the form of strikingly narrow slits that offer views at different heights.

The adjacent rice storehouse was only symbolically retained. Four new stories have been built along the lines of – and using bricks carefully salvaged from – the previous building. Both structures have a wide range of restaurants on the ground floor, together with an organic supermarket, an in-house brewery, and spacious terraces overlooking the River Weser. An underground car park is available for those visitors who do not arrive by bike or tram. Above-ground traffic is limited to deliveries in order to preserve the bustling character of the former factory site.

The spectacular transformation from silo to hotel rooms was achieved by cutting window openings in the concrete cylinders in the form of strikingly narrow slits that offer views at different heights.

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414 Bremen Kelloggs dm vis 002a cut
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Feb 2021 © Dr. Andreas Mueller

© Dr. Andreas Mueller

© Dr. Andreas Mueller

© Dr. Andreas Mueller

© Dr. Andreas Mueller

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Expo Cultural Park Greenhouse Garden, Shanghai China


Four glass pavilions in the Expo Cultural Garden showcase natural spaces in a re-use of the site of Expo 2010, whose prototypes addressed a search for a better and more sustainable future in urban environments that is now more urgent than ever.

The project is based on contrasts and their limits. Rooted in the antagonism between technology and nature, the garden is characterized by a contextual tension resulting from its location and today’s realities. Shanghai, a centuries-old hub of international and colonial trade at the bridgehead between the Eastern Chinese mainland and the Japanese and Korean peninsulas, has always been a stage for technical and cultural explorations of the feasible.

The megacity of Shanghai, with its 23 million inhabitants, is the epicenter of urban and international development in China. At the start of the communist era in 1949, and again around 1980 following Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, the city has experienced extreme economic and structural expansion.

This culminated in the Expo 2010 site, which was transformed in the 1990s from the sparsely populated, industrial suburb of Pudong into one of Asia’s most spectacular high-rise skylines. All the buildings and landscaping of this huge inner-city park, directly opposite the city center, have now been rebuilt, replacing the gigantic transformations of the World Expo with 528 hectares of temporary national pavilions.

Shanghai is directly threatened by the consequences of rapid growth and climate change. Faced with choking smog, water shortages, and rising temperatures, the country’s leaders are looking for radical, large-scale solutions. These are designed not only to save habitats, but also to fuel China’s technological and economic energies in a sustainable way. Whereas, back in 1851, the superpower Great Britain used the Crystal Palace to encyclopedically showcase its colonial supremacy with the help of sophisticated engineering, Shanghai is using elegiac aesthetics to stage the beauty of ecosystems that are now in danger of collapse.

The project meets high standards. The existing steel structure becomes the starting point for a design-led expedition that stages various natural environments in glass pavilions. Based on the conceptual and geometric interplay of straight lines and circles, these spaces are accessed in a dynamic sequence. DMAA creates meandering glass shells that convey movement and mobility to visualize three different biotopes. Another design parameter is the elevation and depression of the landscape surfaces, which not only modulate the terrain, but also create spheres that contrast the experience of airiness and height.

A fourth mirrored meandering object is put in place as the entrance building. Between these four pavilions, a spacious, open circulation area extends beneath the existing steel structure and merges into the adjacent natural space. The walkway winds through all levels and pavilions before reaching the suspended viewing platforms.

The specific instrument for experiencing these spaces is the act of walking. Not a museum-like wandering through interiors, but a wandering along looping paths that cross the created landscapes, rising and falling, and moving the visitor freely through every spatial dimension. Here, DMAA is giving free rein to its passion for bringing people into interaction with built structures, for moving them in every possible sense. Glass balustrades expose the visitors, gentle slopes speed them up or slow them down, and light and openness are transformed into emotion.

Set on a podium, the generous glass spaces are further enhanced by the way in which their extremities rise out of the terrain. A freeform lake and extensive parkland envelop the glasshouses, continuing the reflection upon the boundaries of garden and nature.

A variety of technical solutions were required to ensure the lightness of the setting: The use of single glazing provides sufficient light for the plants and, for the same reason, the pavilions are covered by a cluster of circular ceiling panels supported by a grid of slender steel profiles.

To meet all these requirements in a sustainable way, large photovoltaic panels were installed to provide the energy for basic cooling and heating. Challenged to render these invisible, technology, nature, and poetry were combined in an unexpectedly inspired way. The 10,000 m² of solar panels were installed just a few centimeters below the surface of the lake. In the Tao te King, Lao Tse describes the power and softness of water, which protects and conceals, yet allows the power of the sun to pass through unhindered.

Rooted in the antagonism between technology and nature, the garden is characterized by a contextual tension resulting from its location and today’s realities.

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420 DMAA Expo Cultural Park Greenhouse Garden construction site 2303 0233
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420 DMAA Expo Cultural Park Greenhouse Garden construction site 2303 0268
420 DMAA Expo Cultural Park Greenhouse Garden construction site 2303 0225a

Construction Site
May 2023

© Bollinger + Grohmann


DMAA is convinced that, in the course of the coming years and decades, architecture must find new and more intense ways of addressing such questions as its relationship with the existing heritage, the quality of external spaces and concepts of circular economy – all in the hope that the urgency of the situation will encourage us to learn from one other.

(This content is also available in German)

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Delugan Meissl Associated Architects
Text, imagery and diagrams, DMAA © 2024
Copy: Robert Fabach
Translation: Rupert Hebblethwaite

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